6 Michigan wines recognized with national award
Six Michigan wines won top honors at the annual Jefferson Cup Invitational, considered one of the most notable wine competitions in the country.
Three white wines from Aurora Cellars, a family-run boutique winery on the Leelanau peninsula, received Jefferson Cups, the highest award in the invitation-only competition. Aurora’s winning wines were the 2020 Dry Riesling, the 2020 Grüner Veltliner and the 2020 Medium Sweet Gewürztraminer. These wines competed in the white wine category of Vinifera (Old World grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio).
“We are honored and delighted to have received such prestigious awards from the highly acclaimed and respected Jefferson Cup competition,” said Taylor Simpson, sales, marketing and sales manager for Aurora Cellars and Good Harbor Vineyards, both part of Simpson Family Estates. “Receiving multiple Jefferson Cup awards shows what teamwork between our winemaking and vineyard teams can do. They work incredibly hard all year round, and it confirms that their efforts are recognized nationally. “
In addition to these awards, the Simpson Family wineries also won several gold and silver medals for various red and white varieties. Two other wineries – from Kansas and Missouri – also won three Jefferson Cups. It’s unusual for any winery to win three Jefferson Cups in any given year, said Doug Frost, the competition’s founder and director.
The other award-winning Michigan wines were: 2019 Le Caban Riesling by Left Foot Charley in Traverse City (white Vinifera wine); 2020 Braganini Reserve Traminette from the St. Julian winery in Paw Paw (white non-Vinifera wine); and Honeycrisp Ice from Two K Farms, also on the Leelanau peninsula (fruit, dessert and fortified wine). About a dozen Michigan wineries also won medals.
Aurora Cellars won two Jefferson Cups in 2019 for its 2016 Blaufrankisch and its Brut Rosé, a sparkling wine.
“Repeated success in such a highly regarded competition as the Jefferson Cup is a fantastic reminder for national wine lovers of the high quality wines we can produce in our region,” said Drew Perry, winemaker at both Aurora Cellars and Good Harbor . “We have unique circumstances in our corner of Michigan that allow us to grow and shape wines that show their full varietal potential. Our strength as a region has always been in aromatic white wine varieties. Here we can grow and create wines that are not restricted by our climate, but express character and aroma that are strengthened as a result. “
Unlike many wine competitions, the Jefferson Cup Invitational isn’t open to any winery willing to pay an entry fee. Instead, wines are selected for evaluation based on tastings, information from judges and other competitions. The aim is to honor the “best of the best” from all of America’s wine regions. Trophies are awarded to wines made from both vinifera vines (Old World grapes) and non-vinifera vines that thrive in the more extreme climates of the United States.
The 2021 competition included 750 wines from 27 countries. Judges are being brought in from all over the country. Thirty-four wines received the highest awards. Although California is often expected to dominate competitions, the Jefferson Cups have been won by a variety of states including Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, and Texas.
“Most of the other competitions have ‘open’ seating, and California is 90 percent of the entries. As a result, it usually gets 90 percent of the honors, ”said Frost. “We’re following Mr. Jefferson’s example and we’re giving every quality wine region in America a place at our table. Every year we choose wines from all over America. “
Bryan Ulbrich, owner and winemaker at Left Foot Charley noted that Frost worked hard to open up wine consumers to the variety of wines made in the United States. The nature of the Jefferson Cup competition – invitation-only and its diversity awareness, plus a fundraiser for AngelFlight Central, which offers free flights to people in need of medical care or humanitarian needs – makes the award an honor, he said.
“We don’t take part in many competitions, but we support the fundraising and internal purpose of this competition,” said Ulbrich.
The Left Foot Charley awardee was made with a good portion of grapes from Seventh Hill Farm on the Old Mission Peninsula, just outside Traverse City. It’s the same vineyard that produced another Jefferson Cup for Left Foot Charley in 2019: 2017 Riesling Seventh Hill Vineyard.
“It’s really cool to see how the fruits of this vineyard get this recognition,” says Ulbrich, noting that the vines are around 20 years old. “I think there is a statement about the history of the vineyard and the way we grow the fruit and produce the wine.”
Wineries across the state have consistently won medals and top honors at the Jefferson Cup Invitational. St. Julian received a Jefferson Cup in 2019 for his Braganini Reserve Traminette 2018. Two K Farms received two trophies this year: for the 2017 Riesling and the vintage-free Rosé. Brengman Brothers on the Leelanau peninsula received the highest awards in 2017 for its Riesling ice wine. The invitational did not take place in 2020.
“It’s a recurring theme with Michigan wine,” says Ulbrich of Left Foot. “When Michigan wines are placed against other wines in blind tastings, they really shine. It shows that we can always stand at the same table with everyone and that the wines speak for themselves. It’s rewarding and feels like we’re achieving something. “
Frost said he is a huge fan of Michigan wines, especially the fragrant white varieties.
“I firmly believe that anyone who has had the opportunity to try these wines in an unbiased manner will find them some of the most compelling wines American wineries make,” he said.
The Jefferson Cup Invitational was founded in 1999 in honor of Thomas Jefferson, according to a press release from the competition. Jefferson created the US Constitution, helped advocate the international concept of human rights, and was a landmark figure in America’s cultural, culinary (including wine) and agricultural history.
Michigan’s Jefferson Cup winners
2020 Dry Riesling
2020 Grüner Veltliner
2020 Medium sweet Gewürztraminer
Left foot Charley
2019 Le Caban Riesling
St. Julian Winery
2020 Braganini Reserve Traminette
Two K farms
Honey-crispy ice cream